Respite

The very, very expensive temporary air conditioning unit is up and running.

I assume we are paying for it by the ounce, because not only is it expensive (did I mention that already?), it is HUGE:

This art history major can’t help but be impressed by our new set-up. First, an enormous truck arrived and unloaded this monster in our staff parking lot. A team of able-bodied people busily hooked it up to our existing system (not without its electrical hiccups), and WAH LA: perfectly chilled air is pouring into my office as I type. I mean, I realize we put a man on the moon, and my own dear husband rides around on a nuclear-powered submarine, but I am amazed by the power of machinery. But maybe I’m just an idiot. Regardless, I am thankful for the air conditioning and so are the paintings.

I’m busy preparing for the June 30th opening of our archival exhibit on the life and times of William and Florence Sloane. I’m having a blast figuring out what objects to display along with the timeline. For instance: in 1901, Florence Sloane acquired the very first item of her esteemed collection: a Japanese satsuma bowl on a teakwood stand. The bowl was a gift from her sister, Grace B. Stiles. The handwritten accession record simply states, “This gift started the Florence K. Sloane Collection.”  We’ll have the bowl on display alongside the first museum vitrine she ever purchased (in 1912! Nearly 20 years before her first gallery opened!). All of these objects lead inexorably to her greatest achievements: the founding of the Norfolk Museum of Arts and Sciences (now the Chrysler Museum) and the Hermitage Museum and Gardens.

Mrs. Sloane with a litter of puppies. August, 1929

I find it interesting to track Mrs. Sloane’s collecting patterns alongside corresponding personal and world events. As a new bride, she purchased a great deal of furniture,  silver and china in the years between her marriage (1893) and World War I (1914). Her interest in painting, sculpture and Asian art did not arise until much later (1930s and beyond). She made some missteps in her early years, and I’ve seen the drawer full of hideous knock-off Sevres porcelain that proves it. Right now I’m fleshing out her story during the 1920s — easily the most exciting time in her life as a collector — and I am continuously amazed at what a simultaneously electrifying and depressing time it was for Americans. If anyone can recommend a good book on the interwar period please let me know! I’d particularly like to see one about women…

Mrs. Sloane and friends on vacation in Italy, 1927

So, as you can see, I’m not quite finished, but I am so excited to finally tell Mrs. Sloane’s story in depth. I think she is a fascinating figure in American art history, particularly in the South. She was a woman operating alone from what was essentially a backwater industrial town. Isolated from the New York society in which she was raised, she worked tirelessly (for nearly forty years!) to recreate that same sort of learned gentility in her new Virginia home. Every single arts organization and museum in this area has her to thank for their structure, funding and history, and almost nobody knows it. And that makes me a little mad sometimes. So here’s to you, Florence Sloane: thank you for all you achieved.

As a parting shot, please enjoy this snap of the Oak Leaf Hydrangea taking over the front of the East Wing. It is a lovely time at the Hermitage:

Cheers!

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